Hills and dales and winding river trails: Welcome to the Outaouais
One of the best ways to get into the Outaouais region is to take the scenic drive along the mighty Ottawa River, a natural border between Québec and Ontario. Just keep driving upriver!
The Outaouais region starts just east of Montebello, between Fassett and Pointe-au-Chêne. This is the most western region of Québec so you’ll most likely be arriving from the east and, to save a bit of time, you’ll likely be taking Highway 50 for the first few kilometres. For a pretty drive, get off at Grenville and take Route 148, also called Route des Outaouais. Much less crowded than other famous scenic drives in Québec, Route des Outaouais is one of the most beautiful of all and offers plenty of good reasons to stop along the way.
Montebello, a vibrant village if ever there was one, is a must-see, especially its Rue Notre-Dame. Be sure to stop off at Fromagerie Montebello, a cheese factory that’s become a veritable local institution, and pick up some local delicacies. Here, you’ll find delicious artisanal cheeses, of course, but also a great selection of other types of local treats. In short, anything and everything you’ll need for a picnic at the marina or in the small park behind the old train station, which is now home to the tourist information centre. Take a stroll along the pretty trails of the beautiful hardwood forest around the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site, right next door.
Back on the road towards Gatineau, be sure to take time out for a detour to Parc national de Plaisance, especially the Grande-Presqu’île and Petite-Presqu’île area. Peaceful roads with low speed limits are not just the stuff of cyclists’ dreams, and you can also take a lovely stroll along well-maintained trails leading down to marshes and other types of natural habitats. Another entry point to the national park, a bit further west, near Thurso, also provides access to the Outaouais Trail (sentier des Outaouais) that runs along the banks of the river.
To get to Gatineau, you can either take a slow, peaceful drive along the river on Route 148 or hop onto Highway 50 at Masson-Angers, if you want to save a bit of time. Gatineau is full of attractions and a great place to set up camp for a night or two. If you’re not convinced, just take a stroll along Rue Laval in Vieux-Hull, now a pedestrian street, just a stone’s throw from the Canadian Museum of History. A few years ago, the city also created a culture trail, a public art trail in downtown Gatineau that connects urban works of art, points of interest, and exhibition and entertainment venues. You should know that Gatineau also boasts one of the most prestigious wine bars in Canada. The Soif Bar à Vin on Rue Montcalm, opposite the Ruisseau de la Brasserie creek, is managed by Véronique Rivest, who was declared the second best sommelière in the world at the prestigious international sommelier competition in 2013. You have to see Old Aylmer, as well. Check out its self-guided historical walking tour. So as you can see, Gatineau is a must-stop destination on your trip through the Outaouais, and you just might end up staying longer than you thought you would.
Another attraction of this city is its proximity to Gatineau Park, a 361-square-kilometre biodiversity preservation area that serves as a giant urban park for residents and visitors. It truly is a magnificent place, and your trip to the Outaouais would not be complete without at least a few hours in this natural wonderland, if only to take in the magnificent view from the Champlain Lookout. A good tip: The protected forest here is essentially made up of noble hardwood trees—mainly majestic oak—that turn the roads and trails of this park into one of the most beautiful places in Québec to take in the magical colours of the fall season.
When you’re ready to leave the Gatineau area, you have many choices. One good option is to hop on Route 105 towards Wakefield and drive up along the Gatineau River in the valley. However, if you want to get off the beaten path a little bit, simply continue on Route 148 along the Ottawa River until you get to Pontiac. Leave early in the morning while the river’s still shrouded in mist, and take in the gorgeous countryside with its ‘end-of-the-world’ look. Turn off Route 148 and meander down the small roads to the hamlets of Quyon, Norway Bay and Bristol. If you’re looking for some peace and calm and a change of scenery, look no further! You’ve arrived!
Continuing on Route 148 will take you into Ontario. If you want to stay in Québec, however, you can loop around through the Collines-de-l’Outaouais. At Shawville, take Route 303 towards Thorne (Ladysmith). Once in the village, take Route 366 to Lac-des-Loups and then Wakefield. At one point, Route 366 becomes a hilly, twisty road through the forest but it’s still a very smooth drive, and you’ll be able to take a well-deserved break in Wakefield, a very pleasant village with restaurants, a beautiful park along the Gatineau River, and its famous covered bridge, a testimony to the solidarity of its citizens. Indeed! The bridge was completely rebuilt in 1998 by volunteer citizens after a fire destroyed the original bridge built in 1915. Seeing the hard work of these dedicated volunteers is well worth the visit!
As you continue exploring the Collines-de-l’Outaouais area, take Route 366 from Wakefield to Pointe-Déziel, and then head north on Route 307 to Saint-Pierre-de-Wakefield, the Réservoir l’Escalier, High Falls, Bowman and, finally, Val-des-Bois. Routes 366 and 307 are peppered with stunning picturesque views of the surrounding countryside. Around every curve, you’ll behold small plots of farmland that seem to nestle into the foot of the hills bordered by woodlands.
The drive up to Val-des-Bois is very pretty, and on your way back down through the Vallée de la Lièvre to Buckingham, you’ll discover new landscapes as you drive along the Du Lièvre River, which flows into the Ottawa River. After a break in the village, where you can take a lovely stroll along the Sentier du Lièvre, jump on Route 309 and head southward again. The light is especially beautiful at day’s end as the golden rays of the sun light up the mountains along the valley to the east.
At the end of the Du Lièvre River—after many a detour over hills and dales and along winding river trails, with the memories of the magnificent landscapes you’ve just seen and a profound desire to go back and explore the roads not taken—you’re back in the Ottawa River Valley. But fear not! This isn’t the end! There’s a lot more to see and do!
Other stops on your road trip through the Outaouais
Little Red Wagon Winery
Little Red Wagon Winery, located in the Pontiac region, an hour’s drive from Gatineau–Ottawa, offers wines made from northern grape varieties grown on site! Come and discover the vineyard and taste its products. And be sure to check out the works on display by local artists!
C-165 Calumet Rd. West, Clarendon
Brasseurs du Temps
Brasseurs du Temps, the Outaouais region’s first microbrewery, is a tourist, cultural and social destination—the thriving hub of downtown Gatineau. Located on the premises of the former brewery of Philemon Wright, founder of the Township of Hull, the microbrewery has restored the site to its original purpose. A tour of the Brasseurs du Temps brewery and beer museum reveals the fabulous history of beer and its importance for the region. The brewery’s gourmet menu features tasty dishes that pair easily with one of the many beers on offer!
170 Montcalm St., Gatineau
Visit the majestic natural and historic site of Plaisance Falls! Admire the site’s natural beauty from the lookout, observation areas and hiking trail. With their 63-metre vertical drop, the Falls were an important economic factor in the founding of the 19th-century village of North Nation Mills, now just a memory. The site’s historical presentations and interpretation trails allow you to discover this important chapter in the history of the Petite Nation region.
100 Malo Rd., Plaisance
Fairbairn House Heritage Centre
The Fairbairn House Heritage Centre recounts the history of the Gatineau River Valley. Built in 1861, William Fairbairn’s family property now features a tourist information centre, local heritage exhibits, guided tours, a log cabin, a heritage barn, an outdoor stage and access to hiking trails. The Heritage Centre is located just steps from Wakefield’s famous red covered bridge.
45 Wakefield Heights Rd., La Pêche
Text and photos: Simon Jodoin